Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dragnet for dognapped Sophie gets results

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It's a story cops like to share among themselves.

How they prefer dogs to people, or at least a lot of the people they tend to meet on a daily basis.

This is the story of a person named Cat and her dog named Sophie that kind of makes both man and beast look good for a change.

Except for one man.

The two-legged creature who stole Sophie last week.


-- -- --

It was Thursday just after noon when 29-year-old Tyrone Walford did something trusting dog owners commonly do in Winnipeg: He tethered his girlfriend Cat Ferguson's dog outside the Home Depot near Polo Park while he nipped in to shop for a few minutes.

You know where this is going.

When Tyrone returned, Sophie -- a toy Australian shepherd -- was gone.

Dognapped, according to a witness who saw a man take her by the leash and quickly walk away.

Tyrone immediately called Cat, who joined him at Home Depot, and the hunt was on. In a matter of a few hours, they had contacted police, scoured the area themselves by car, printed up and handed out posters with Sophie's photo and Cat's phone number and put information about the theft on Facebook's Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert.

Cat even went on Energy 106 FM to tell their story in hopes someone might have seen Sophie.

As Cat would tell me later, she enlisted the help of her girlfriend Carolyn Bourque's brother. Const. Aaron Bourque of the Winnipeg Police Service has a special interest in dogs and protecting them, and Carolyn knew her brother would be eager to help. Which he was.

Cat said Const. Bourque spent hours tracking down a Home Depot video of the theft in progress and the man responsible. By mid-afternoon, all that effort produced the first break in the search for Sophie.

"I got a notice someone had spotted her at Siloam Mission," Cat recalled.

Then she received another message on her cellphone. Someone else had noticed a dog that looked like Sophie in the same area, this time outside the Salvation Army Booth Centre, just off north Main Street. A couple who had seen the posting on Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert had confronted a guy among a group of people gathered outside in front of the building and asked where he got the dog.

His answer? He found it.

Cat and Tyrone headed for the neighbourhood. So did Const. Bourque.

Separately, they combed the area, asking people on the street who call the area home to be on the lookout for the dog. But if Sophie and the thief were still there, they were nowhere in sight.

As it turned out, there was good reason for that. Sophie had already been found. Cat just didn't know it yet.

Denise Hilderman was on her way to work at the Bell Hotel about mid-afternoon Thursday when she noticed something odd as she was parking on Henry Avenue, along the road much travelled between the Siloam Mission and the Salvation Army.

"I saw a dog leash first," she said, "and there was no dog on it."

Then she and Tara May, another colleague, noticed the dog. It was Sophie -- although they hadn't been formally introduced -- and she was right beside the Bell Hotel, where a group of street people were arguing over who owned her.

"That's my dog," one would say. "No, it's my dog," another would assert.

But Sophie the pampered pooch didn't look like a dog that belonged in the area, never mind to anyone who lives there, so Denise and Tara scooped her up and took her inside the Bell.

It was there that another colleague, Pat Aylesworth, took Sophie's photo and began making a "found" poster.

But as she was doing that, a man in a ponytail dropped by the Bell to see a resident, and Pat asked if he had ever seen the dog before. In fact, he had -- on another poster at Siloam Mission.

And that poster had a phone number on it.

It was around 8 p.m., roughly eight hours after the search began, when Cat got the call about her found dog.

Sophie began doing backflips as soon as she saw Cat walk in the door. Cat responded with screams of joy, and the staff at the Bell laughed and clapped.


-- -- --

There are at least a couple of takeways from this story. Leave your dog tethered and alone outside a store at your own, and your dog's, risk. That's one. The other Cat learned from all the people she met on the street or who texted her and said they had heard about Sophie and they were already looking for her.

"The kindness of people," was the way Cat summoned it up. "It was pretty awesome."

Meanwhile, there's a creature still on the loose -- the one who stole Sophie. And you know how much Const. Bourque and his fellow pooch-loving police officers would love to put a collar on that dognapping son-of-a-you-know-what.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2013 B1

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